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Small Town Spotlight: Murphys
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Small Town Spotlight: Murphys

If you think strolling down Main Street is all you’re going to be doing in Murphys, let us stop you right there.

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5 min read

July 21, 2021

Despite Murphys’ accomplishment as one of California's richest boom towns, this sleepy Calaveras County gem is now mellow to the max. Everything from its 19th-century stone-walled buildings to white-picket-fence gardens will make you feel as if you’re walking a fine line between reality and dream world—not to mention its location in the Sierra Nevada foothills; just above fog level and below the snow line.

But if you think marveling at period eye candy and strolling down Main Street is all you’re going to be doing in Murphys, CA, let us stop you right there. There are gold panning opportunities, live concerts, road trips to vineyards, gorgeous scenic drives, endless supplies of delicious food, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can even step foot in places frequented by John Wayne, Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, and Ulysses S. Grant—just stop and ask a local, they’re super friendly.

A former gold mining settlement, Murphys' main street today is lined with over two dozen wine tasting rooms and surrounded by local vineyards.

Murphys’ Golden History

The year was 1848. John and Daniel Murphy established a trading post and gold mining operation in a region that’s now their namesake. True entrepreneurs with the luck of the Irish, these two were first to successfully bring wagons over the Sierra four years prior to the Gold Rush, essentially paving the way for westward migration.

The two were among the first who cried “Gold!” in California, acquiring an estimated $2 million in gold ore in just a year—the duo became millionaires before the age of 25. This meant great things for the soon-to-be Murphy. Not even four years went by for the post to gain 3,000 new residents—that’s very close to its present-day population.

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On Sept. 1, 2010, Mercer Caverns celebrated the 125th anniversary of its discovery by Walter J. Mercer. Photo courtesy of Mercer Caverns.

Things to do in Murphys, CA 

Tour the Mercer Caverns 

Discovered in 1885 by gold prospector Walter J. Mercer, the Mercer Caverns are a sight to behold. The series of caves are enormous, stretching over three thousand feet into the surrounding limestone, reaching a staggering depth of 192 feet. To see the beautiful interiors of the cave system, we recommend hopping on a guided tour—each lasts around 45 minutes and is offered every half an hour or so.

Pop into Art on Main

Are you a fan of all things artsy? Then don’t miss a chance to view what the creatives of Calaveras County have in store for you. Opened in 2012, Art on Main is dedicated to showcasing the craftsmanship of local talent, many of whom work on-site at the gallery. This means whatever question you have, there are good chances that they can be answered by the artists themselves. Inside, you’ll find pastels, watercolors, acrylics, oils, as well as jewelry, glass art, textiles, and sculptures.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy ice cream and that's basically the same thing. And before you ask, no, we're not sharing.

Get a Scoop of JoMa’s Artisan Ice Cream

We don’t know about you, but there’s just something so satisfying about a scoop of delicious ice cream on a hot summer’s day. If you’re a fellow sweet tooth, then JoMa’s Artisan Ice Cream is definitely worth hitting up when in Murphys. Each of their 20 flavors is handmade in small batches using the best and freshest ingredients they can source. Opt for either the caramel crunch, chocolate fudge chip, or mocha almond fudge—we guarantee you’ll be going back for seconds.

See a Play at Murphys Creek Theater

Murphys Creek Theater Company was established in 1994 and is responsible for the infamous “Theater Under the Stars” festival held each summer on the Stevenot Estate. If you’re up for a night of laughter and dramatics, head to Downtown Murphy, CA, where the company has found permanent residence at the Black Bart Theater. From thrillers and murder mysteries to family comedies, purchase your tickets and enjoy the show.

Pivotal to Murphys Old Timers Museum is the story of Irish immigrant Martin Murphy and his family, who settled many other California towns and cities.

Check out the Exhibits at Murphys Old Timers Museum

What was once an old general merchandise store now serves as a time capsule of what life was like in Murphys in 1856. The Murphys Old Timers Museum is a nostalgic trip back in time—nearly all exhibit pieces here are donated by local families who’ve lived in the area for ages. The museum’s collection includes many artifacts from the Gold Rush era, as well as photos, documents, and period clothing that tell the tale of Murphys’ pioneer Irish immigrants.

Have Lunch at the Alchemy Cafe 

Come and hang around with Foothills winemakers and gourmet lovers at one of the best restaurants in Murphys, CA. Alchemy is an inviting eatery that's adorned with beautiful decor, offering a laid-back atmosphere like no other. If we had to describe the cuisine, we’d have to say American gastropub meets an eclectic array of farm-fresh ingredients—and they’re carefully selected by the region’s best chefs. Perennial favorites include the caesar salad and crab cakes alongside hearty braised short ribs, roast pork belly as well as their signature Alchemy meatloaf. Drooling much?

Want to have a picnic? Murphys Community Park is the perfect choice. Care to go for a morning jog and deep stretch too? You know the ideal spot.

Stop by Murphys Community Park

Nestled in the heart of the region, Murphys Community Park is an outdoor playground for both the young and the young at heart. Bring the kids to the playground, splash around in the creek, or declutter your mind with a morning run. Another fun thing about this park is that the Murphys Community Club organizes fun musical events with free entrance, delicious food made right there on the spot from June to September. 

Dine at Grounds Restaurant 

Seeing how well Grounds Restaurant is doing right now, it’s hard to believe that the eatery initially started out as a modest coffee and sandwich bar. After its establishment in 1992, Grounds Restaurant grew in popularity rather quickly (rightfully so) and now serves full-on breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals. Owner River Klass gained his skills in Paris, and—having trained at multiple top-tier restaurants—decided to bring his talent to Murphys.

Step into a time when the rhythm of life was slower at the Inn on Knowles Hill. Photo courtesy of The Inn on Knowles Hill.

Stay at the Inn on Knowles Hill

Staying at the Inn on Knowles Hill is like stepping into a time where the rhythm of life was slower. The charming bed and breakfast overlooks the historic Gold Rush town of Sonora, Twain Harte, and Jamestown—talk about a room with a view. And as far as places to stay in Murphys go, their lush gardens, luxurious suites, and giant neighboring sequoias make it a treat for the eyes and the soul.

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